To those people who are disparaging the Tokyo Olympics, go troll somewhere else.
Likewise, people who are saying they are not worth the time on television, you probably weren’t going to watch anyway, and should go watch something else instead of trying for a gold medal in complaining.
It’s true that for three straight nights, viewership for the Tokyo Games has been down more than 30% compared to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. Given how dramatically live television viewership has declined in five years with the explosion of streaming and on demand, it’s hard to say how much the ratings decline for the Olympics reflects that or a lack of interest in the games.
An Associated Press article on the ratings included the following line about the TV ratings: “But for NBC Universal, bad news like Simone Biles withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team final competition Tuesday can’t help.”
The American gymnastics superstar withdrew from the all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being. USA Gymnastics said in a statement that the 24-year-old is opting to not compete. The decision comes a day after Biles removed herself from the team final following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready.
According to AP, Biles came to Tokyo as possibly the face of the games following the retirement of swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt. She topped qualifying on Sunday despite piling up mandatory deductions on vault, floor and beam following shaky dismounts.
She posted on social media Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. The weight became too heavy after vaulting during team finals. She lost herself in mid-air and completed 1½ twists instead of 2½. She consulted with U.S. team doctor Marcia Faustin before walking off the field of play.
“Once I came out here (to compete), I was like, ‘No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,” Biles said. “I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health, and not jeopardize my health and well-being. … It was like fighting all those demons.”
Some thoughtless circles are calling Biles a “loser” for “quitting.”
We say this Olympian is a champion for being true to herself, and making the best decision for her team and our country’s chances. (The U.S. won silver, by the way.)
Her muscles or tendons or bones did not have to be ailing. Her head was, and that is just as important. It sends an important message to the world: Mental health matters.
Without question, Biles has redefined the mental health discussion that’s been coursing through sports for the past year.
A published analysis this week pointed to several notable examples:
— Michael Phelps, winner of a record 23 gold medals and now retired, has long been open about his own mental health struggles. Phelps has said he contemplated suicide after the 2012 Olympics while wracked with depression.
— Tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, never went to Wimbledon and, after her early exit in Tokyo this week, conceded that the Olympic cauldron was a bit too much to handle.
— American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson made no secret of the issues she faced as she prepared for an Olympic journey that never happened. She said she used marijuana to help mask the pain of her birth mother’s death, to say nothing of the pressure of the 100 meters.
— Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin left training camp in January to clear his head, saying he was finding it “very difficult for me to know how to find my way as Tom Dumoulin the cyclist.” He resumed training in May; this week, he won a silver medal in the men’s individual time trials.
— Liz Cambage, a WNBA player who competes for Australia, pulled out of the Olympics a week before they opened because of anxiety over entering a controlled COVID bubble in Tokyo that would have kept her friends and family away.
Thriveworks, a counseling, psychology and psychiatry services with more than 300 locations, found that one in three elite athletes suffer from anxiety and depression. In an analysis of more than 18,000 data points from print, online, broadcast and social media sources covering track and field, swimming, tennis, gymnastics and soccer, 69% of negative mentions were about female athletes compared to 31% about male athletes, according to the AP.
We all have bad days. We all have factors that affect our mood, our performance, our headspace. For an Olympian, the demand is exponential. What Biles showed us, with grace and dignity, is that it is always OK to put mental health first. That makes her an exceptional role model for us all.